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‘Hamilton’ wins Kennedy Prize for Drama

Mark Kennedy
AP Drama Writer

New York – — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s revolutionary stage musical “Hamilton” has won a Grammy, a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation and now another honor — one of the largest prizes given for dramatic writing.

Columbia University announced Monday that “Hamilton” won The Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History, which honors a new play or musical that explores the United States’ past and deals with “great issues of our day.”

Given every year through Columbia University, the prize honoring the late U.S. senator from Massachusetts comes with $100,000. The other finalists were “An Octoroon” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, “Indecent” by Paula Vogel, “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage and “Vietgone” by Qui Nguyen.

Nottage’s play later Monday did win the 2016 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, awarded annually to recognize women from around the world who have written works of outstanding quality for the English-speaking theater. Nottage wins $25,000 and a signed print by artist Willem de Kooning.

“Hamilton” examines the true story of Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and the nation’s first treasury secretary, told by a young African-American and Latino cast and with music that blends musical theater, rap and pop.

The jury included playwrights Kristoffer Diaz, Dominique Morisseau, Anne Washburn and Mona Mansour, librettist John Weidman, composer Jeanine Tesori and Columbia University professors Farah Jasmine, Rashid Khalidi and James Shapiro.

The jury’s vote was unanimous: “Technically so proficient, historically so sound, artistically so groundbreaking, ‘Hamilton’ is both inspired by and celebrates the evolving history of the United States, of hip-hop, and of the musical theater,” the jury said in a statement.

The prize was established by Kennedy’s sister, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, in consultation with playwright Tony Kushner. It is given every Feb. 22, the anniversary of the late senator’s birth.

“Hamilton” was a sold-out sensation last year when it debuted at the Public Theater, with people paying well over 10 times the $120 ticket price. When it transferred to Broadway, President Barack Obama came to see it and it has become the hardest and most expensive ticket to get.

The show has won awards from the Outer Critics Circle, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Drama Desk, and it is a likely candidate for Tony Awards this summer. The show’s album became the highest-debuting cast recording on the Billboard Top 200 in over 50 years.

Miranda previously won a Grammy in 2009 for his Broadway debut, “In the Heights.” He also was a Pulitzer nominee for “In the Heights,” as well as the recipient of two Tony Awards for that show.